Christmas Around the World is a 10-part series. This audio podcast is narrated by Koby Levy, who was born and raised in Israel, served as company commander in the Israeli Defense Forces, and is founder and CEO of WAKA Systems, an international business development company.
Koby Levy: It is important to note that some of the key Christian sites in the Holy Land are now split geographically. Some reside within Israel while others are in the Palestinian authority controlled territories. Israeli Arab population is estimated at about 1.6 million, representing over 20 percent of the country’s population. The bulk majority of them are of the Muslim faith, and thus do not celebrate Christmas, but there is a minority of under 10 percent Christian Arabs who do celebrate Christmas.
Given the diversity of denominations among Christian Israeli Arabs, some celebrate with the western churches on the Gregorian 25th of December, while others with the eastern churches on the Gregorian 7th of January on the following year.
The pattern of Christmas observance among the Palestinians residing in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is similar to that of the Israeli Arabs.
Although Christianity is a minority in Israel, Christmas is important in both areas due to the region’s significance as the place where Jesus lived, and as a destination for Christian pilgrims around the world, especially during Christmas time. Bethlehem (pronounced Beit Lechem – house of bread), where Jesus was born, lies in the West Bank, only a short distance from Jerusalem – with the Church of the Nativity being a prominent symbol of the city for both Christian and Muslim alike as well as a site of pilgrimage for thousands annually.
Nazareth (pronounced Nazeret) – Jesus’ hometown and another pilgrimage site – is a mixed Jewish/Israeli Arab city lying in the northern part Israel.
Finally, Jerusalem (or Yerushalyim), is home for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; although it is overall the largest center of Christian pilgrimage, its associations with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus tend to focus pilgrims towards Eastertime rather than Christmas.
Christian pilgrimage makes up a significant proportion of the Palestinian economy in the West Bank, and accounts for a substantial proportion of tourism to Israel as well.
Audio captured and edited by Ed Stortro
Audio transcription by Ed Stortro
Voice over Koby Levy